The announcement on June 1 by President Donald Trump that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement was misguided, and the justifications Trump provided were — at best — misleading and, to some degree, simply untruthful. Withdrawing from the Paris agreement will be damaging both to the United States and the world. Sadly, Trump’s withdrawal announcement makes clear that the president has little understanding of the nature of the agreement, the process for withdrawal, or the implications of withdrawal for the United States, let alone for the world.
What Does President Trump’s announcement actually mean?
The president’s comments were confused and confusing. He said that the country “will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States. We are getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great.”
The notion of renegotiating the Paris agreement is a nonstarter. Within hours of the president’s announcement, the idea of renegotiation was rebuked by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among many other world leaders.
But what could Trump even mean by his assertions of the deal’s “unfairness” to the United States, and what should we make of his statement that such unfairness could be addressed through renegotiation?
According the Paris agreement’s own provisions, there is a required three-year delay from November 2016 (when the agreement came into force) before any party (country) can even begin the process of withdrawing, and then there is another year of delay before that process is completed. So what the president actually announced — in effect — was the U.S. government’s intention to begin the process of withdrawing some two and a half years from now.
Thus, the announcement was equivalent to stating that the U.S. will remain a party to the agreement for the time being (which it will). The administration could — in theory — submit a revised nationally determined contribution that is consistent with what the country can accomplish in emissions reductions (possibly a 15 to 19 percent reduction by 2025 compared with 2005, according to a recent Rhodium Group analysis, instead of the Obama nationally determined contribution of a 26 to 28 percent decline), due to the broad rollback of Obama-era climate regulations that Trump has initiated. The country-specific, nationally determined contribution is the key element that can be thought of as affecting “fairness” of the U.S. role under the Paris agreement, because it is only through the self-determined, voluntary, country-specific contributions that any national targets or actions are specified.
Given that the administration had already begun the process of unraveling Obama-era climate regulations (that were to be used achieve the Obama nationally determined contribution), the announced withdrawal from the Paris agreement has no additional effects on U.S. emissions mitigation actions. Hence, it is fundamentally dishonest to claim as a justification for the withdrawal that this will reduce costs for the U.S. and save jobs.
Beyond the national targets and actions specified by the U.S. nationally determined contribution, there is one other aspect of pledged action under the Paris agreement that could be considered to affect fairness, and that is the set of pledges of financial contributions to the Green Climate Fund, to which industrialized countries have voluntarily pledged $10 billion since 2013 to help low-income countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. If the U.S. were to fulfill its original $3 billion commitment to the fund, this would amount to $9.41 per capita, ranking 11th among country pledges, starting with Sweden’s at $59.31 per person. However, the president had previously announced that no funds will be going to the Green Climate Fund (beyond the $1 billion already delivered during the Obama administration). That makes the per capita U.S. contribution a bit more than $3, ranking close to the bottom of the list, only above South Korea’s pledge of about $2 per capita. So with this financial element, as well as with regard to domestic emissions mitigation actions, withdrawal…